- April 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm #316797
I heard the word ‘undertaker’ the other day and started wondering how that came to be a funeral director. I have been doing some research to try and find out how undertaker came about. I ran across this article that I thought was very interesting. I have edited the article but if you would like to read the full article, here is the link https://mysendoff.com/2011/12/from-furniture-maker-to-undertaker/
… When death occurred in the late 1800s, no one contacted a funeral home, no calls were made to morticians to handle the burial arrangements, no one had to go through the process of contacting the right people to carry out the task for burying the deceased, mainly because there were no funeral homes or funeral directors. Up until the early 19th century, the task of preparing the dead for burial was seen as a simple, dignified family affair.
During pre-Civil War times, the funeral process followed a typical pattern in which people generally, died at home surrounded by their friends and family. Upon their deaths, the body was laid out by close relations, who washed and dressed the body in a shroud or “winding sheet” made of muslin or wool, afterwards, the deceased was placed in a simple pine coffin, often constructed by a family member or neighbor.
It was during this time that the body would remain at home, in the parlor for one to three days while relatives, neighbors and friends would voluntarily “watch” over the body, keeping a round-the-clock vigil. Depending on the weather, a large block of ice may have been placed beneath the coffin, with smaller chunks distributed about the unembalmed body…When the final goodbyes were said, so began the journey of the deceased to its final resting place. Depending on the distance, the coffin would be carried by pallbearers on foot or conveyed in a horse-drawn wagon through a sombre procession to a grave pre-dug and awaited by a sexton….
However, in more urban locations, upon the death of a family member, local furniture makers would be called upon to “undertake” difficult and emotional tasks for the family when handling a death. Because these skilled tradesmen were pioneers who moved into areas needing furniture, they also “undertook” the task of preparing the dead by constructing caskets.
These early furniture makers, who often hung out a shingle that read “Furniture Maker and Undertaker” would be called upon by a family to measure the deceased, and further fashion a six-board coffin for which the body would be laid out in for a one-night vigil that gave family and friends a chance to pay respects. The purpose for the one to three day vigil gave the deceased a chance to awake from a coma or show indications of life. Within 24-48 hours of death, (i wonder how many people were buried alive)the coffin would be carried to the village burial ground and interred in a final resting place.
All that began to change in the aftermath of the American Civil War. As the death toll of American men began to exceed the thousands, many families were requesting their loved ones be shipped home for proper burial rites. However, with the railroad industry still a newly developing innovation, the shipping of deceased bodies could not be guaranteed without showing significant signs of decay.
To change this, Dr. Thomas Holmes, a pioneering surgeon-chemist, began promoting the innovation of arterial embalming. While many Americans approached embalming with skepticism for years, deeming it a method only practiced in medical schools to preserve the dead in order to teach anatomical studies, embalming soon found favorable acceptance after the death of Abraham Lincoln. To provide Lincoln’s body a slow, solemn journey back to Springfield, Illinois, his body was embalmed, giving the practice a legitimate and favorable approval rating amongst many…
… Soon, even the rural-dwelling populace embraced the process of embalming as a primary source of preservative measures…Many cabinet-makers began receiving training in the art of embalming and with the increased education, came the sense of added professionalism to a specialized trade. This lead to the unification of many funeral directors across the country who, in 1921, formed the Funeral Service Association to act as a professional organization to enhance the standards and improve services to the public.
The article continues explaining how the funeral business is has remained traditionally to be a family run business ‘handed down’ through the generations.
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